The following article by Head of School Paul A. Burke originally appeared on November 18 as a blog post on the #GivingTuesday website:
Sir Ken Robinson, in his well-traveled TED Talk, makes a grand claim that schools drain creativity from unwilling and unknowing subjects. Schools, it seems, take a young mind inclined towards imagination and confine it to the boundaries of rote and reduction. Reaching for the impossible is replaced by toiling in the merely practical and mundanely possible. Sir Ken makes his argument with humor and zest. He brings to light a notion that is all too familiar—that too many of us at too many moments experienced—that school is a place where dreams diminish.
Many commentators argue that the factory model is to blame. Horace Mann’s dream of universal education came to the fore during the Industrial Revolution. Efficiencies, standardization, and interchangeable parts ruled the day. The world has changed but education has not, leaving us with institutions that are high on unchangeable and low on parts, schools that support a system more than the individuals in it.
Those factory schools had something very right, however. They understood their moment. The world needed a massive industrial work force to usher in modernity in all its awesomeness, and schools assured a predictability that was necessary for progress. Today we are left with that awesome world and the best schools are coming to realize that we need less awesome and more humanity. To do this we need to have both uniformity and divergence; we need community and individuality; relationships and opportunity. Through it all, we need to let young people know that they matter. It no longer takes a thousand men to turn the wheel. One well-educated girl of character can turn one thousand wheels with the turn of a phrase.
This is where a giving curriculum finds it home. Teaching philanthropy, I would argue, is about understanding this moment: we live at a time when some of the most promising solutions are coming from the most unlikely places. Social entrepreneurs from far-flung places are finding their place alongside Google, Bill Gates, and others in offering their ideas.
We believe that giving can be taught, and we are giving this notion our best shot at Nightingale, a small girls’ school in New York City with a proud history of public engagement.
We believe that if we can teach Nightingale girls to turn their talents, their time, and their treasure towards others, we will help them to internalize a purpose for their education. This helps them move beyond momentary challenges to see the big picture. This helps them understand that the world is bigger than they are. This helps them understand that they matter. Ultimately, this helps them see that their school, their city, and their world can be better because of their contributions.
In that same spirit of giving that we are working to instill in our students, we are sharing some of our best thinking and one of our best thinkers with the broader community. Dr. Heidi Kasevich, our history department head, lent her many talents towards a giving curriculum to share with our #GivingTuesday partners. We hope that other schools will seize upon this resource and see it for what it is—a chance to recapture school as an institution that can catalyze dreams and ignite imaginations.